Senegal: the new crossroads of geopolitical changes and rivalries?
A diplomatic aura that has been perpetuated from Senghor to Sall, an African leadership long at the service of Pan-Africanism under Abdoulaye Wade, eminent personalities placed within international institutions ... to this potential of geopolitical influence of Senegal are now added oil and gas. The discoveries made since 2014 on these resources further place the country of "Teranga" on a pedestal courted from all sides. In recent years, several foreign powers, have moreover renewed, built, or strengthened their diplomatic ties with Dakar, confirmed by the unceasing parade of foreign Heads of State and Ministers, which has become the reflection of a projection of a geopolitical competition in which Senegal is already the crossroads. This article analyzes the changes in foreign policy to which an oil and gas Senegal is trying to adapt, under the pressure of geopolitical interests of divergent foreign powers.
Between 2014 and 2016, historic discoveries were made in Senegal. If the country had mining resources such as Gold, Phosphate, Zircon, or even Uranium among others, it will now have to deal with significant oil and gas reserves. The companies Carn Energy (Scottish) and FAR (Australian) announced the discovery of oil and gas resources. "Initial estimates of reserves from this well range from 150 million barrels of oil (with 90% probability) to 670 million barrels (with 10% probability), with an average prospect of 330 million barrels (50% probability)," the Australian company explained. Also in 2016, Kosmos Energy published its significant oil discoveries in the Tortue, Marsouin, and Teranga fields. Among these wells is the Grand Tortue/Ahmeyim discovered in 2016 with a potential of 450 billion m3 . Senegal is thus becoming a producer of these resources, which are as important financially as they are geoeconomically and geopolitically. The first barrels are expected in 2023 and this potential is especially expected to be the engine of President Macky Sall's Plan for an Emerging Senegal, which hopes to put the country on the rails of emergence by 2035. The importance of oil especially reinforces the status of a pivotal country in West Africa that has acquired diplomatic importance since its birth.
Senegal: a soft diplomatic power
Since Léopold Sédar Senghor, its first president, Senegal has always been a proactive player in African and global diplomacy. First of all, its geographical location gives it natural geostrategic importance. Located in the extreme west of Africa, the country is a gateway in the continent and the Port of Dakar is one of the most strategic in Africa. This makes it highly sought after for its management. Secondly, Senegal has been a key player in international relations. For 45 years it has led the Committee for the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. Under Senghor, the first World Festival of Negro Arts was organized in Dakar in 1966, bringing together African artists, writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, actors, film directors, and craftsmen. Under Abdoulaye Wade, the feat is repeated in 2010, always in Senegal. He also strengthened the country's position as a major player in Pan-Africanism and peace, with several initiatives including NEPAD (New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development). Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, President Wade has been involved in several conflicts to mediate between actors, in Côte d'Ivoire for example, or in the case of Clotilde Reiss, a French university student imprisoned in Iran between 2009 and 2010. The country has also managed to put several personalities at the head of international organizations: Jacques Diouf at the FAO, Amadou Mahtar Mbow at UNESCO, and Lamine Diack at the IAAF, to name a few. Senegal's major attribute in West Africa is its political stability. The country has experienced two peaceful alternations of power in 2000 and 2012 and has never experienced a coup d'état. Despite some political tensions, press freedom violations, and arbitrary arrests in recent years, Senegal has maintained a solid foundation of political and social stability and democracy. This makes it an attractive country and home to several headquarters of international organizations and NGOs.
These qualifications give the country importance in African diplomacy and its region. Foreign powers have made it their siege to implement their policies in West Africa. Several ambassadors present in Dakar are also responsible for other bordering countries, often Guinea, Gambia, and Cape Verde. Senegalese culture, gastronomy, history, and arts give the country more potential influence in the region. A foreign power that successfully strengthens its presence in Senegal can easily expand its relations with other West African countries. These diplomatic attributes make the country of paramount importance when economic issues and opportunities are added to the mix. With an average growth rate of 6% in recent years, Senegal has a bright future that does not leave foreign powers unmoved. Not only is the country attractive for business, but its oil, gas, and diplomatic influence have reinforced its weight in international relations.
Senegal: society and geopolitics in mutation?
Since the early 2000s, Senegal has distinguished itself by diversifying its international partnerships. Under Wade, Dakar has opened up more to Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran. Turkey, India, China, and South Korea were added, imposing a certain rivalry with traditional powers such as France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Economic opportunities have increased over the years, further impacting the country's status. Under Macky Sall, things have intensified. With the Plan for an Emerging Senegal, the president relies more on foreign direct investment to give himself the means to achieve his ambitions. Oil and gas have been added to the mix as if to complicate the situation. But in the background, geopolitical changes and the perception of foreign powers on the continent are reshuffling the cards. In Senegal, issues of sovereignty are increasingly being discussed, especially on social media, and the scent of pro-African sentiment is growing. In March 2021, French shops were targeted during protests against the arrest of Ousmane Sonko, who became Macky Sall's main opponent and was accused of rape by a young woman. He is above all anti-system and anti-imperialist, denouncing the evils of FrançAfrique when he was a candidate in the 2019 presidential elections (where he finished in third place for his first participation). During the demonstrations, Sonko is supported by an unstoppable youth that makes the justice system yield under the influence of the executive. Some speak of a rise in populism, others of anti-French sentiment. Whatever the case, March 2021 was a confirmation of the challenge to the hegemony of Western powers in Africa, especially in Senegal.
But even more symbolic, Senegal refrained from condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine during the United Nations vote last March, as did several African countries. The Western camp is increasingly concerned that one of its main partners in Africa is moving away. The risk is to lose Senegal's diplomatic support, but above all opportunities for economic cooperation, as the country is rich in oil and gas resources. This abstention has concretely moved pillars and the political game around Dakar has become more complex. What happened next confirmed the trend.
Senegal: crossroads of geopolitical ambitions and rivalries?
In November 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Dakar was intended to strengthen the Washington-Dakar axis but also to block China's expansion. In his speech, Blinken was aware that he was now on a competitive ground and argued that infrastructure deals made by other countries can be "opaque, coercive, burden countries with unmanageable debt, are destructive to the environment and do not always benefit the people who live there”. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the consequences at the United Nations, the Western counter-offensive has been organized. Europe must already face its dependence on oil and especially on Russian gas. Senegal is clearly an alternative and the visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz last May was part of this. In this unprecedented African tour that began in Senegal, Scholtz wanted to encourage Africa and Macky Sall, current president of the African Union, to abandon the non-alignment posture observed on the Ukrainian issue and to condemn the actions of Russia. Oil and gas were also discussed, as evidenced by the Senegalese president's response to German demands. "Senegal is ready to work to supply the European market with LNG (liquefied natural gas), but first we must be supported in our participation in better conditions than those currently offered by our partners," explained Sall.
Also in September, President Andrzej Duda arrived in Dakar. This is the first visit of a Polish president to this part of the world. The Polish president went to Senegal at the end of an African tour that started in Nigeria and then in the Ivory Coast. On the menu, is the Ukrainian crisis of course, but also, the issues of energy. "We have touched on the subject of the exploitation of these deposits and the possibilities of cooperation at the level of investments, at the level of academic cooperation, and the level of gas deliveries in Poland," confirmed Duda. Opposed to Russia, Poland also wants to strengthen its relations with African countries. To further convince Senegal, Duda brandished the portfolio. "Our two governments will examine in more detail all these aspects, see how to allocate the credit line of 100 million US dollars that Poland has made available to Senegal as a loan. We also want to collaborate in the field of hydrocarbons," he added.
The last act of a diplomatic haute couture show, Dmytro Kuleba was in Dakar on October 3. The Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs begins a 48-hour visit to Senegal as part of an African tour. On the menu, the same tone as during the visit of the Polish president: Russian-Ukrainian war and energy. "I can easily imagine that the Senegalese can be perplexed about the origins of the conflict, far away, in Europe. And we know how strong Russian propaganda is. You in Senegal would have rejected attempts to impose the will of someone else on you because you are a proud and strong nation, and so are we," first expressed the head of Ukrainian diplomacy. The objective is to make Senegal adhere to its cause, that the next votes at the United Nations are in favor of Kyiv in the conflict that opposes it to Russia. In addition to discussions on oil and gas, Ukraine seeks to export its technology to Senegal, a field in which it has made considerable progress in recent years, but where China is well present on the continent. "I came to Senegal, accompanied by business leaders (...) Particularly in the digital field, in which our country is very developed. We want to do a lot in this area with Senegal. We are ready to offer you opportunities," said Kuleba.
The die is cast: Senegal is in the crosshairs of several powers with antagonistic interests. Today, Westerners are competing on a ground that they have always seen as their de facto right. From now on, they will have to face the diplomatic offensives of emerging countries that enjoy a certain credibility due to the absence of a colonialist or neo-colonialist past in their relations with Africa. African nations are not insensitive to these new partners and Senegal is following this new logic. It is above all up to Dakar to understand the geopolitical importance it has attained and to optimize it for its national interests exclusively. Senegal now has a real responsibility to assume the relents of a sub-regional power and to reflect this in its economy, for a country that is still among the 25 poorest countries in the world.
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